Gurdjieff International Review
A Never-To-Be-Forgotten Lesson
How sad, how sad not to have known him; but more, how sad to have known him and not to have understood him. And above all, how sad to have understood him and not to have served his work.
The year is 1923. The Prieure is humming with activity. Mr. Gurdjieff is everywhere at once, constantly speeding up the construction work at the Institute, as there are still many new projects he wants to get started. Each week he divides his time between Paris and the Prieuré, according to what is needed.
We never saw him go to bed before us, nor rise after us. It was as if there were several motors inside him working in relay, day and night. Even when he was obviously drawing on his last drop of energy, his face never showed the least sign of fatigue, and the intensity of his presence never varied.
He was away from the Prieuré the day that the basic structures of the Turkish Baths and the adjoining rooms were to be finished. I was in charge of constructing the drainage gutters and of moulding the rounded plinths with cement. I really liked this work and smoothed the cement with loving care.
By five o’clock in the afternoon, the job was practically done. There were still two full hours left until dinner, and I spent the whole time on the final touches. When I was finished, I experienced a great feeling of happiness. I imagined how pleased Mr. Gurdjieff would be when he saw how carefully I had completed my task.
I went back to the chE2teau, walking with a spring in my step. I wanted to change my clothes before dinner. On the way, I saw Mr. Gurdjieff seated on a bench beside one of the paths, talking to a woman who had recently arrived. Having just returned, he was still wearing his hat and coat.
I was eager to let him know everything I had accomplished while he was away and, hoping he would ask me about it, I walked down the path. Arriving at his bench, I gave a sign of greeting. With his typical calm, he asked me the question I was waiting for.
“Why so happy, Tchekhovitch?”
“I’ve just finished the gutters and the plinths, Gyorgi Ivanovitch.”
“Yes, and so?”
“They turned out well, and I am rather pleased.”
“By what values? How do you measure that? I’d like to see this work that you’re so happy about.”
Asking the woman to wait for him a few moments, Mr. Gurdjieff got up.
“Let’s see,” he said in a tone of voice that immediately cast a shadow of anxiety over my happiness.
We entered the baths, and Gyorgi Ivanovitch asked me to show him exactly what I had done.
“And you dare to call this well done? If I had known you were going to ruin my project this way, I would never have entrusted it to you.”
He took a trowel and began to scrape away everything I had just done with such care. “Quick!” he said. “Get another trowel. We’ve got to get all this cement off before it sets.”
Sick at heart, I did what I was told.
Mr. Gurdjieff was visibly displeased with me, and as he left, his words cut deep. “Someone else will finish this work. As for you, get over to the stable and clean out the manure.”
I went to the stable, and was surprised to find it all in order; the manure had already been taken out.
The next day, as I was passing the baths, I went in and saw that everything had been redone. The plinths and gutter had been moulded and smoothed just as I had done them the day before.
Who had spent the whole night re-doing all that? I didn’t have to look far to know. On the floor, some familiar cigarette butts gave me the answer.
To tell the truth, the quality of the work seemed no better than mine. I began to reflect. Why? Why, with all the pressure on him, with all the countless responsibilities, and in spite of the importance he gave to finishing everything as quickly as possible—why had Mr. Gurdjieff destroyed a perfectly good job only to work throughout the night, putting it back exactly as it was? Why, despite all the fatigue he must have felt, did he take on this extra effort to give a lesson to just one man?
I did not understand, and could not understand.
It was only a long time afterwards that I understood. No doubt I had by then acquired a new set of values.
~ • ~
These excerpts are taken from Tcheslaw Tchekhovitch’s, Gurdjieff: A Master in Life, Toronto: Dolmen Meadow Editions, 2006, pp. 201, 86–88. Copyright © 2006 Institut G. I. Gurdjieff, Paris.
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Featured: Spring 2007 Issue, Vol. X (1)
Revision: April 1, 2007